I remember the day I was diagnosed quite clearly: It had been a month or two since I was unofficially diagnosed by my therapist and family doctor, so it wasn’t a shock to me and my family. It was rainy. I met with a pediatrician and psychologist, who sat in front of my parents beside a giant window and told them that if I didn’t start gaining weight and enter recovery immediately, one of my organs—the main concern was my heart—was going to give out on me in my sleep and their daughter was going to be dead.
I was 16 with a diagnosis of anorexia nervosa—an eating disorder which, for me, was less about looking like Barbie or comparing my body to the bodies of other people than it was a way to have control over something in my life. My eating disorder had become my best friend, something to reach for when I was upset or remembering something traumatic. It made me feel better. Anorexia meant not having to think about past abuse from boyfriends and abuse from an ex-best friend. I couldn’t articulate how I felt or bear to remember details of my traumas, let alone try and cope with them in ways that would benefit me.
After I was diagnosed, I was put on an outpatient, family-based recovery plan by a hospital with a specialized program for adolescent eating disorders. Recovery from a restrictive eating disorder sounds like heaven to a middle-aged hockey mom who drinks diet soda to be “healthy.” “You get to stay home for months and you get to eat whatever you want?! You’re sooooo lucky!” But I wasn’t lucky. At all. Twenty-four hours a day I was at war with two different parts of myself. One begging me to eat, to take care of myself. The other—the bigger and stronger side—begging me to feel the comfort of a growling stomach, even if it killed me.
A good part of me was beyond determined to treat my medical leave from school as a time to heal myself. I was ready for recovery; I despised my eating disorder and I wanted to get rid of it. I hated that the people around me could no longer trust me, that I couldn’t trust myself, that my body no longer seemed like my body. I would go to places I loved in downtown Toronto and see people my age laughing and eating fearlessly. Watching them I’d think, Well, why can’t I have that? I believed I’d be able to handle being alone all day, having to eat meals that my parents made for me (I wasn’t allowed to make my own meals or decide what I ate) and feel absolutely amazing that I was doing something to make myself the best person I could be.
But when your only coping mechanism is taken away from you, an incredibly large portion of who you have become goes, too. Ninety percent of my thoughts had been about food, my body, working out, adding up calories and grams of fat, sodium, et cetera. I was so focused on the things surrounding my eating disorder that I’d stopped making art, writing, and even spending time with people I love. I didn’t really know who I was anymore: I’d defined myself by my eating disorder, by my weight and measurements. If those things were no longer important, I had no idea how to see myself.
I knew my body was craving food more than anything. I felt myself getting weaker. I felt my diagnosis under my eyelids as I drifted to sleep on the bus or in the middle of history class. I felt it in the temperature change in my bones: That cold is not the kind that can be banished with a blanket and a sweater, it’s a cold like an ice storm slowly taking over your body. My hair was falling out in clumps when I tried to tie it up, I wasn’t getting my period, and my skin was turning grayish yellow. Yet somehow, the eating disorder part of me was stronger than my very real biological needs.
For the first time in my life, I had to stick up for myself, to rebel against my eating disorder. Eating foods my anorexia would never allow—chocolate, cheese, white rice, bread, cookies, and popcorn that wasn’t Skinny Pop—felt like I was on Fear Factor eating live insects to get closer to a $50,000 prize. For a long while, eating anything felt this way. I had to prepare myself mentally for each meal, and there were many, many times when I would have to take a while to cry and scream into a pillow because I was so overwhelmed by the war going on in my head. The only way I was able to survive was to take small steps in sticking up for myself and standing up against my anorexia. While eating, I reassured myself, “I’m doing what’s best for me.” I was giving my body exactly what it absolutely needed. I was saving my own life.
Eating disorders are a life sentence, so although I am weight-restored and the healthiest I’ve ever been, I still stand up to my eating disorder every day. Whether I even think about it or not, with every bite I take of everything I eat, I’m standing up for myself. In the words of DJ Khaled, “They don’t want you to eat breakfast. They don’t want you to eat lunch. They don’t want you to be happy.” I stood up to “they,” and I was rewarded with my life. ♦
Tess Motta is a 17-year old real-life Daria living in Toronto. If she isn’t crying over dogs or creating something, she’s probably dancing and singing alone in her room. You can find her on Instagram at shoegazebaby.